The United States and Iran Fall Just Short of War


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Americans protest against a war with Iran in Boston in the days following Soleimani’s death.

Gabrielle Daley, Editor-In-Chief

Iran is a divided country. It used to be under a monarchy, with a King or a Shah as the leader. It is now under a theocratic government, which means the government rules in the name of God. According to a 2020 BBC article, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the Supreme Leader of Iran currently. The Leader is chosen by a group called the Assembly of Experts. He has control over the security and intelligence services, as well as the armed forces. As the leader, he chooses everyone who controls the courts and media. He selects half of the dozen members of the Council of Guardians, a group that oversees the Iranian Parliament. Iran’s Parliament is controlled by a democratically elected President. Iran is divisive because some Iranians are followers of the Islamic Supreme Leader and some are against him and his rule. 

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Supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took the place of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.

According to a short 2015 ABC documentary called A Brief History of US-Iran Relations, the United States has a hard time negotiating with Iran because they have to receive the President’s approval, and the Supreme Leader’s approval, which is even harder to do. The United States and Iran have been at odds since the 1950s, and US-Iran relations have grown more intense, as President Trump’s attack in January 2020 brought the two countries on the brink of war. These are key events that have led us to the current crisis with Iran… 

The United States Returns the Shah to Power (1950s)

Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was on Iran’s throne. According to the 2015 ABC News documentary, in 1951, democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh made a law nationalizing Iran’s oil industry, which was controlled by Britain at the time. He saw that Britain was exploiting its resources. According to a 2020 BBC article, the Shah and Mosaddegh had a feud over their power, and in 1953, the shah attempted to kick Mosaddegh out of his position. Iranians protested in the streets and the shah fled. The United States feared that Iran would fall into communism after Mosaddegh nationalized the oil industry so they backed a coup d’etat to overthrow Mosaddegh from power. The Shah returned to power and Mosaddegh was exiled.

Mr. Taylor, a history teacher at WSHS explained, “It was a democratically elected government that Iran had in 1953. We were worried that they would be too pro-communist. They bordered the Soviet Union. In the 1950s, we saw everything through a communist vs. democratic lens, because it was the Cold War. So when we saw a democratically-elected president cozying up to the Soviets, we said ‘we can’t have that’. So the United States sponsored a coup-d’etat and got the Shah in.”

The Shah Flees and Ayatollah Khomeini Returns With Islamic Rule (1979)

According to the ABC News documentary, in the late 1970s, Iranians protested on the streets against the Shah’s authoritarian rule. The people saw him as a puppet of the US and the UK, as he prior had imposed laws that mimicked Western society. “When the Shah mistreated the Iranian people, they didn’t just hate the Shah, they hated us because we backed him up,” Mr. Taylor explained. In 1979, the Shah fled Iran and never returned. Soon after, Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in France. He was an Islamic nationalist who had opposed the Shah’s rule. Under his rule, Iran declared itself a theocratic republic that followed Islamic principles. He died in 1989 and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took his place as the Supreme Leader, according to the BBC.

Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-1981)

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Followers of Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took 52 American hostages in 1979.

According to a 2020 PBS article, “A Timeline of US-Iran Relations”, President Carter allowed the Shah to come into the United States for cancer treatment. This caused a backlash in Iran. Islamic students who were followers of Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the US Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. They are held captive for 444 days, and this crisis led to President Carter’s loss in the election of 1980. This caused the US to sever ties with Iran. In 1981, the hostages were released minutes after Ronald Reagan’s election, according to ABC News. “That’s how they got their revenge for us putting the Shah in power,” said Mr. Taylor.

America Involves Itself in the Iran-Iraq War

ABC News explained that in 1979, the Iran-Iraq War began. This is the bloodiest war of the second half of the 20th century. Iran was winning the war, the US sided with Iraq. The US-backed Iraq in this war by giving them intelligence reports, billions of dollars, military technology and chemical weapons. An Iran militant group bombed the US Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 240 Americans and French. 

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Iran is bordered by Iraq. The countries have been enemies for years. After the War of Terror, Iraq has been torn apart, and now Iran is looking for power there.

Iran-Contra Scandal (1985-1987)

In November of 1986, the world was shocked to learn that the United States was secretly selling arms to Iran, stated ABC News. According to PBS, the United States was then channeling these profits to the militia groups called Contras who were rebelling against the socialist government in Nicaragua. Iranians saw this a United States is two-sided – they were helping their enemy Iraq while being willing to sell them weapons.

The United States Shoots Down an Iranian Civilian Plane (1988)

ABC News reported that an American Navy ship shot down an Iranian civilian plane in the Persian Gulf because they mistakenly believed they were under attack by a military jet. They killed 290 innocent passengers and crew. The United States never apologized, and Iran continues to hold this event against us to this day. 

Bush’s “Axis of Evil” Statement (2002)

In his State of the Union of 2002, President George Bush called Iran a part of an “axis of evil” because it was creating weapons of mass destruction. His speech angered Iranians.

Iran and Nuclear Power (2000s-2015)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an Islamic ruler and mayor of Tehran becomes the President of Iran in 2005, said ABC News. Under his conservative presidency, Iran stepped up its nuclear game. In 2010, the United States released a virus on Iranian nuclear facility, this sabotaged their facilities and computers were delayed. Iran and the United States went back to the table and continued negotiations. It wasn’t until 2015 that a nuclear deal was reached between the two countries and other world powers after Hassan Rougani won the presidential election in Iran in 2013. Iran agreed to limit its production of nuclear weapons.

Withdrawal from the nuclear deal and intensified relations (2018-Present)

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Millions of Iranians flooded the streets in protest of the United States after President Trump killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

According to PBS, Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement and attempted to force Iran to negotiate a new deal in 2018. Iran responded by exceeding its limits for uranium enrichment that were established in the deal. In 2019, Trump is called the Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” Later that year, the US attempted to seize an Iranian oil tanker after it attacked other tankers under the Saudi Arabian, Japanese, British and Panamanian flags in the Strait of Hormuz. In November of 2019, Iranians rioted against a rise in oil prices in the streets; according to Amnesty International, 300 civilians were killed by the government for protesting. Trump criticized Iran’s actions. 

The Current Conflict

After the Iraqi-American War of 2003, “There’s a huge power vacuum that Iran wants to fill,” said Mr. Pettengill, a history teacher. Iraqi demonstrators and Iran-backed militia broke into the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq and set fires to it after the US killed members of an Iran-backed militia the week before, explained PBS. On January 3, 2020, the US killed Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike. “Qassem Soleimani was in Iraq when Trump ordered the airstrike because Iran wants to get its hooks in Iraq. We also wanted to kill him because he is a terrorist that has killed Americans” Mr. Taylor said. Millions of people protested against the US in Iran and screamed “Death to America.” 

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Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was killed in Iraq by a US airstrike on January 3, 2020.

Iran responded on January 8 by launching missiles on two US bases in Iraq, but no casualties were reported. That same day, Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner with two Russian missiles. On January 11, 2020, Iran admitted that it shot down the Ukrainian airliner by mistake. This sparked protests in Tehran against Iranian leaders.

The US has now put renewed sanctions on Iran which target the construction, manufacturing, mining and textile industries. And the United States isn’t buying oil from them, which hurts Iran. However, the tensions between the US and Iran are still there, both countries have seemed to back off from the cusp of war.